• Tuesday, October 03, 2023
businessday logo


Nigeria’s low science research investment yields vaccine deal to SA

Nigeria approves COVID-19 vaccines for 16-year olds on educational grounds

On a local radio program on Friday, 13 August 2021 the on-air personality hosting the show wanted to know why Nigeria with all her about 200 million people was not considered by Johnson & Johnson for a vaccine production deal it signed with South Africa recently.

Interestingly, news of the deal was disclosed by Amadou Cheik Tidiane Cisse, representative of the African Centre for Disease Control at an event to mark the formal delivery of the 2.1 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine to Nigeria in Abuja.

“The first batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was manufactured in the United States, while subsequent doses will be manufactured in South Africa,” Cisse said. “Africa CDC encourages other countries to try and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines because it is very important in the campaign against the virus.”

In essence, South Africa will become the production hub of the vaccines that countries like Nigeria would get to consume.

The radio host was not the only person expressing a little disappointment with the outcome of the deal, media reports on the deal could not resist making the point that South Africa was preferred over Nigeria.

But going by commitment to research and development (R&D) or science research by countries in Africa, it would be easy to deduce why it does not make business sense for Johnson & Johnson to go for Nigeria as the preferred destination for the vaccine production in Africa.

Read also: President Buhari in isolation after exposure to COVID-19

It should be noted that the Africa Centre for Disease Control (AfricanCDC) chose the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the continent. It is now also partly manufactured in Africa. Given that the vaccine is recommended for all the 54 countries, any country that controls a large portion of its production gains significant economic advantage over the rest of the countries. Unfortunately, that country would not be Nigeria.

An expert, Wuraola Oyewusi, Research and Innovation Lead, Data Science Nigeria puts the challenge in Nigeria this way, “The general Nigerian system is not exactly designed to be enabling for science. So for every system where there’s any growth in science research, it is very intentional.”

In the period between 2017 and 2018, South Africa increased its gross expenditure expenditure for R&D to $2.628 billion from $2.353 billion. Nigeria on the other hand, in 2019 was only able to allocate $175 million as budget to the Ministry of Science and Technology, it is the least allocations in all the ministries. In fact, the proposed 2019 allocation to the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST), N66.8 billion naira is lower by 12 percent than the 2018 allocation and 0.73 percent of the proposed budget.

The 2020 and 2021 budgets have increased slightly. The Ministry saw its budget allocation grow to N157 billion ($411 million) in 2021 but it is far below what South Africa spent on R&D alone back in 2018.

Nonetheless, a breakdown shows that a large chunk of the money is for the payment of salaries and very little is channeled towards R&D

Alternative funding instruments like TETFUND set up by the government are performing below expectations in terms of funds to science research.

Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) a body set up by the Nigerian government to arrest the rot and deterioration in the educational infrastructure occasioned by long periods of neglect and very poor resource allocation, has committed N7.5 billion ($18.2 million) as of 2021 to science research. It was N3 billion in 2019 and increased to N5 billion in 2020.

For the past three years, 2018, 2019, and 2020, Nigeria have ranked 118, 114, and 117 respectively, on the Global Innovation Index (GII). The country is ranked 15 in sub-Saharan Africa and 25 among 29 lower-middle-income economies.

All in all, Nigeria doesn’t have good antecedents to attract mega scientific deals like South Africa has just done, not until it makes science research a priority. Oyewusi says there is a chance the private sector would not need to wait for the government to wake up based on growing internet penetration.

“I think access to Internet is a game changer because now your work, your needs, your audience, and reach is no longer limited to your environment,” she said.